Actress, activist, and all-around badass Laverne Cox recently gave the commencement speech at Pitzer College. In the wake of recent draconian anti-choice laws being passed in places like Alabama and Georgia, Cox recounted her experience of engaging in pro-choice activism online. After she retweeted the message “Woman’s body. Woman’s right to choose. End of story” on her Twitter account, many of her followers challenged the language she used, feeling that it wasn’t inclusive of trans men.
Thank you for this. This discussion has brought up much for me that I am processing. https://t.co/1rxbllLS5f— Laverne Cox (@Lavernecox) May 15, 2019
Recounting this story in front of the graduating class, Cox recalls her initial reaction to being challenged.
“I said to myself: ‘Can we just have a moment where we keep this simple? There’s so much going on in the world right now and it is so complicated...‘Can we have a moment for women? For women to be in solidarity with each other? Can I just be in solidarity with my sisters on this issue? Do we have to make it about all of the complicated nuances of the issue?’”
Cox then goes on to discuss how she eventually started to change her thinking upon reflecting more about what it means to be empathetic.
“As I continued to process, I thought, for the first time, ‘What if I were a transgender man?’ What if I were a transgender man… and for whatever reason I became pregnant unintentionally? If I were that trans man, I would really want to have language that incorporated and included my experience.”
Language around abortion can be tricky. The concepts of women’s rights and abortion access are often synonymous with each other, for obvious reasons. Reproductive rights are tied into distrust about women controlling their bodies, and ergo, controlling their own livelihoods. But it’s important to realize how the patriarchy affects more than just women, and we need to include trans and non-binary folks in our activism. Though having access to safe and legal abortion is an important aspect of reproductive rights, there is more to it than that. In an article written for Everyday Feminism, KC Clements talks about how we can extend our conversations about reproductive rights to include the transgender community:
“Trans people face specific issues when it comes to our reproductive health. For instance, for those of us who do choose to pursue hormone replacement therapy, we face potentially damaging effects on our reproductive organs. In most cases, testosterone causes the ovaries to cease function and bleeding to stop, while the use of estrogen and testosterone blockers reduces or eliminates sperm. While it is possible to reverse these effects by ceasing hormone replacement therapy, in some cases sterilization can be permanent.
This is just one of several examples that Clements offers. They also mention acknowledging the long history of forced sterilization being used against women of color and recognizing that sex work is work. All in all, the way Cox responded to being called out is a good example of how to handle situations like that. She owned up to her mistake and listened to what other people had to say. Just one of the many reasons that we love Laverne!
Photo credit: The New School
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Emma Davey is a blog editor for BUST. She recently earned a B.A. in politics and gender, sexuality, and feminist studies from Oberlin College. She is originally from Houston and worships Beyoncé accordingly. You can follow her on Twitter @navel_gazerr if you want to hear her rant about things.